Danielle V. Minson — Raising the Bar
Always Open: The Creativity of Virtual Jewish Cincinnati
“It’s unprecedented,” said Max Yamson, Executive Director of Camp Livingston.
At June 17’s SAFE Reopen Group meeting of our agencies’, schools’ and congregations’ senior professionals, I was struck by how our community, through creative use of online strategies, has been impressively successful online. We originally began meeting every week to curate and integrate the complex regulations and guidance coming from the CDC, Governor DeWine, and elsewhere to help our agencies to “reopen.” What was immediately clear was that none of our nonprofits needed to reopen because none of them had ever been closed. All of them had paused using their facilities to comply with health regulations. But despite the economic hardship on individuals and organizations, our Jewish community stayed open—virtually—and has actually thrived, during the pandemic so far.
I listened with surprise and pleasure as Max described Camp Livingston not as a place but as a community:
“What we are seeing is something totally new and unprecedented. Campers, parents, grandparents, alumni from many generations, and community members are participating in our online programming together. Did we think people would get involved? Sure we did, but not in a million years did I expect over 150 people to participate in the concert fundraiser. Most exciting was that the participants spanned 40-plus years of camp community. Truly amazing.”
I also learned that many congregations have had a high level of engagement during COVID-19. Here’s just a few highlights:
Sally Harding Schott of Wise Temple reported that its average services attendance increased more than 100 percent.
For months, Adath Israel Congregation has not had in-person programs, services, or classes. “And yet, amazingly, we have had a huge uptick in our engagement,” said Senior Rabbi Moshe Smolkin. “Where we sometimes struggled to get a weeknight minyan together, now we get ten families joining live on Facebook and some 70 families joining to view the service. Not only are we open, but our programs and services have been better attended than before. Certainly, we long for the day when we can join together in person like we used to, but our online engagement will continue into the future.”
Rabbi Robert Barr of Congregation Beth Adam reported similar results.“Simply put—online activities easily allow members to participate and as a result more people are engaging. Not having to drive in the evening for Shabbat Services has been well-received. In fact, members have asked that even after the pandemic we continue to stream programs and services. While online activities are different than an in-person experience, they are proving to be very positive.”
What values drive our reaction to the pandemic? The warm, collaborative tenor of our SAFE Reopen meetings has allowed all of our organizations to share fast-changing, creative new approaches. This mutually supportive impulse continued last week as we began hammering out a group statement of shared values and principles on using facilities during the pandemic. We have already agreed that:
The statement is not finished—but know that our community’s strengths are shining these days.
Wishing everyone a safe, relaxing Independence Day weekend. May it inspire us to rededicate ourselves to America’s greatest strengths and traditions.